Lazy Thinking Causes Crappy Writing

Apr 2, 2012 | Better Writing

I loved the headline in Megan Hustad’s Fortune article: “No, business writing doesn’t need to stink.” I loved the teaser copy even more: “Put something in plain language and if the basic idea is fatuous, its stupidity has nowhere to hide.”

This is the writing equivalent of the old saying that: “It is better to close your mouth and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

There’s a tidal wave of crappy writing out there. There’s lazy thinking buried in jargon and bad ideas smothered in adjectives, but you don’t have to be part of the problem. Here’s how to stand out from the crowd in a good way.

Think it Through

Spend some time thinking about what you want to communicate. Sometimes drawing a diagram will help.

Write a Zero Draft

The Zero Draft is the one before the first draft. When you write one you’ll discover what you don’t know and what you can’t explain well. Fix the problems.

Explain it to Someone Else

Find someone to explain your idea to. Pay attention to what they think you’re saying and to what they don’t understand. When you catch yourself saying, “You know …” take it as a warning. Try explaining what you think your listener knows.

Revise It

Make it shorter. Make it simpler. And do those things without changing the meaning. See if you can get it to fit on a single page. Let it sit overnight, if you can, then review it again.

Repeat Until Done

Revise until you’re only making the piece different, not better. Then, stop revising and send it on its way.